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Police governance and service delivery in the 21st century

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 17

Barry Loveday, reader in criminal justice administration at the University of Portsmouth, considers the role that the new metro mayors will have on policing and local service delivery.

How significant the arrival of the new directly-elected mayors for the metro areas will prove to be remains an open question. However, what the elections represent and symbolise is the Conservative government’s continued commitment to devolving responsibilities from the centre, and for policing a recommitment to a local service delivery model. 

Irrespective of political party control, the elections will only further cement local policing which was embedded by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. They may also finally bury any remaining professional aspirations for regionalised policing by way of major amalgamations of local police forces.  

There has been continuing debate about the extent to which the new metro mayors will encourage public engagement and that they may have only been grudgingly accepted as part of a wider deal on devolved funding and powers. But earlier experience with police and crime commissioners (PCCs) suggests that the office-holders can do much to entrench new democratic structures, even when their introduction has been top-down rather than bottom-up. The work of many PCCs, recently highlighted by the Police Foundation, indicates that they are proving to be much more effective than their predecessor bodies, and that there has been a significant change to local police governance where PCCs have worked to create a principal and agent relationship with their respective chief officers. Additionally, within the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto a commitment was made to expand PCC responsibilities to co-ordinate the local delivery of criminal justice agencies, which can be expected to greatly expand their role. 

Metro mayors and police forces 

It is evident that within the new local metro governance model police forces will now have to embark on a process that, while reinforcing the local policing model, could impact on their own governance and how they are made accountable. This has, in part, reflected an expectation from within the Home Office that in these areas responsibility for the police force will pass from the PCC to the elected mayor. 

In the West Midlands, however, the decision has been taken to retain the PCC; elsewhere the mayor [or deputy] will assume responsibility for policing. In the case of Tees Valley this has, for example, been made quite explicit, as in his manifesto statement the incoming mayor, Ben Houchen, made a commitment to establishing an independent commission to consider the structure of Cleveland Police, which he claimed had “failed both residents and frontline officers”. This could prove to be a useful yardstick in identifying the ability of metro mayors to significantly improve police performance and local service delivery. 

The NYPD experience 

It is also interesting that a think tank report in 2003 initiated interest in police accountability through direct election, with the most favoured model being that of New York City, where the directly-elected mayor appointed the police commissioner (and on occasion also his deputy). The Policy Exchange study, ‘Going Local’, provided a defence of local policing but recommended a much stronger and explicit form of local accountability. 

In New York, the mayor’s relationship with the NYPD appeared to reinforce imaginative appointments at the top and significant managerial innovation. Both provided a new dynamism to the work of the police department. There was one further benefit from the New York City structure which proved attractive: the opportunity to integrate local services. In New York, this was provided by the implementation of Compstat, a management system which went beyond policing and crime to extend to other city services. Overseen by the mayor (or his deputy) and police commissioner, this management system served to break down department silos by sharing information in the public domain.

 Integrating local service delivery 

Given the changing nature of demand placed on police forces in England and Wales the need for a more integrated approach to local service delivery is at a premium. As has been noted recently, primarily the consequence of activity analysis of policing undertaken by the PCC of Staffordshire, there is a growing, if belated recognition of the rise of non-crime incidents with which the police service has to deal. Indeed, currently non-crime incidents have now overtaken crime incidents for most police forces. 

A major contributor to the rise in non-crime incidents relates to increasing mental health issues in the community and the role of police as an emergency service. On top of this, there are the increasing difficulties experienced within health and social services to respond to cases as a result of ongoing austerity measures imposed by central government. Estimates from Staffordshire PCC suggested at least 20% of police time is now spent responding to these incidents. A freedom of information request to all local forces in 2016 indicated that between 20% and 40% of police officer time was currently spent responding to mental health incidents in the community. The College of Policing also estimated that non-crime incidents now account for 83% of all command and control calls.

This is a remarkable change in police caseload. However, when linked to the expectation that demand generated by public safety and welfare incidents is only likely to increase, this suggests that within the metro and combined authority regions there is a justification to develop models that serve to closely integrate local services. 

The evidence indicates there is now an overriding need for the police to work much more closely with health and social services. This could be expected to go well beyond current ‘triage’ arrangements introduced in some police forces. The College of Policing recently estimated that a figure of four million incidents nationally required a police response, and while the Conservative leadership has identified future reform of the 1983 Mental Health Act, police engagement is unlikely to substantially diminish as it continues to act now, in effect, as a ‘secret social service’. 

A changing crime profile 

There also can’t be much consolation from the fall in acquisitive (and other) volumes of crime, as reality demonstrates that the profile of crime is not falling but changing. Recent ONS Crime Survey data indicated that any fall in traditional acquisitive crime has been more than matched by the rise in fraud and cybercrime. As has been argued by the ONS deputy director, estimates of the number of fraud and computer incidents are now similar in magnitude to the combined total of all other offences measured by the annual Crime Survey. The point here is, of course, that most police forces have proved to be largely unprepared for this dramatic change in crime profile and do not appear to have either the resources or resolve to effectively respond to this new and dangerous pattern of crime. 

Closer oversight 

Any response to the new profile of crime will need to embrace a significant change in the skills base of officers recruited to police forces. But this cannot be left to the police that, organisationally, has traditionally sought to increase capacity rather than capability. As a result, encouraging or implementing direct entry programmes to increase police capability may need close oversight. Yet the recruitment of more civilian staff with specific IT skills would, it might be thought, only match the current home secretary’s commitment, recently reaffirmed at the 2017 Police Federation’s Birmingham Conference, to the future direct recruitment of chief constables from outside of the police service.     

Since the arrival of PCCs in 2013, there has been a significant change in the relationship between chief officers and the civilian authority responsible for their oversight. It is evident that most PCCs remain committed to a ‘principal and agent’ relationship with their chief officers and where, as one PCC noted, civilian oversight in local policing can now be expected to be much more intrusive than in the past. 

This trajectory of greater civilian oversight may only increase as the new directly-elected mayors begin to exercise both their authority and spending powers. This might be directed at maximising local service outcomes by way of breaking down local service barriers and challenging organisational cultures.


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